No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. This is particularly true in the employment context when you are faced with having to tell an employee 'no'. 

These days employees can make a number of requests of their employer, be it leave requests such as annual leave, long service leave or a leave of absence, to flexibility arrangements such as part time hours, altered starting and finishing hours, working from home just to name a few. On most occasions these requests can be accommodated, but what happens when they cannot?  No matter how reasonable the request, nor how reasonably it was made, sometimes as an employer you must say no. Here are some tips to make such a task that little bit easier. 

Understand the request 

In the first instance never assume you understand the employee’s request or why it's been made. Speak to the employee and consider asking them to put their request in writing so you have a complete appreciation of their request. The more you understand their request the better placed you will be to consider it from all angles to see if there is any way to accommodate it. It may be you first misinterpreted the request and now that you have a complete understanding the request can be granted. 

Consider your legal obligations 

Depending on the type of request made there may be specific requirements on how and when you respond. For instance, a request for a NES flexibility arrangement made in accordance with section 65 of the Fair Work Act 2009 must be responded to within 21 days, in writing and if refused, the reasons (which must be reasonable business grounds) must be explained to the employee. 

Make sure you comply with any legal obligations you have and any requirements of your organisation’s policies and procedures.

Is there room to compromise?

Before flat out refusing an employee’s request, consider if there is any compromise that can be offered? For example if an employee wants annual leave on a Saturday and Sunday but Saturday is your busiest trading day and you need them to work at least Saturday morning, can you compromise and let them have Saturday afternoon and Sunday off? Or if an employee wants to finish work at 4.30 every day, if this could not be accommodated could you agree to this three days a week?

Often showing your willingness to compromise, to try to accommodate the employee’s request as far as practical for the business, will go a long way to showing your employees you care and are trying to be fair and reasonable, balancing their needs and wants with the realities of running a business. 

Explain the refusal

An often overlooked step but one that is so important is communicating the refusal AND reasons for the refusal to the employee.  Sometimes this is a legal requirement (see above) but it is also a matter of best practice.

Further, if an employee is aware of the reasons behind the refusal and can see you have given genuine consideration to their request before refusing it, while not necessarily happy, they will nonetheless be able to understand the company's position. For instance, if a leave request is made one week before the intended leave and other staff are already on leave, explain this in your refusal of the leave and ways to improve their chances of approval next time. Not only will the employee understand why their request was refused but next time they should make their leave requests earlier and after consulting with others about any of their upcoming leave. 

The real take away message is that the power of communication should never be underestimated. Communicating with your employees, whilst not always nice (particularly if you have to say “no”) is one of the simplest ways to ensure an understanding, productive and happy workforce. 

 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Sarah Neideck is a Senior Associate at HR Law. 

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